Category Archives: education

Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Progressive Taxation Effect

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: ‘I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.’

I think that’s a good way to frame this complex and emotionally charged topic.

How you are disposed to feel about taxation really depends on how you are disposed to feel about government. If you believe that government is a force for good then you probably are less opposed to paying taxes. If you believe that government is not a positive force in society then you probably resent every penny you pay.

I am, in theory, in the former camp. Tax= benefit. I say in theory because how much we benefit depends on how well we are governed, which is another blog…

The current fiscal situation in Alberta plays into the two major arguments against taxation.

  1. The tax system isn’t fair
  2. Governments can’t be trusted with our tax money

Alberta just came off a boom cycle. As quick as we busted, we were told to tighten our belts. That leaves me and many of my fellow Albertans scratching our heads and wondering, where did our tax dollars go? Personally, when I hit tough times I had income, and savings from that income, that I could fall back on. Why don’t we have anything put aside for a rainy day, Alberta?

We have two problems, income and fiscal management. Until an election is called I’m only going to tackle income.

Alberta has a flat tax. Ostensibly that seems fair. But it isn’t, and it deprives our government of valuable income.

Consider this flat tax scenario:

  • Government taxation exempts the first $100 from taxation and takes ten per cent from the rest.
  • Jane makes $110 a week. She pays $10 in taxes and has $100 left to feed, clothe and care for her family.
  • John makes $1100 a week. He pays $100 and has $1000 left to feed, clothe and care for his family.
  • The government collects $110 to provide public services for Jane and John.

A ten per cent tax imposes a significantly greater burden on Jane because it has a significantly greater impact on her ability to provide the basic necessities of life for her family. John has adequate money left to provide for his family, and even enough to save each month. Government has money to provide public services.

A flat tax is a REGRESSIVE tax because it places a greater burden on lower income earners.

That isn’t fair. Not in my books. No one should put their child to bed hungry. Ever. Every child should be able to afford education. Always.  If you don’t comprehend that from a moral point of view, I may at a later date discuss the dollar cost associated with poverty within society to help you quantify it.

Now consider a progressive taxation scenario, based on income; same Jane, same John:

  • Government taxation exempts the first $100 from taxation and takes ten per cent from earnings over $100 and under $200, and fifteen per cent on all earnings if the earner makes over $200.
  • Jane makes $110 a week. She pays $10 and has $100 left to feed, clothe and care for her family.
  • John makes $1100 a week. He pays $150 and has $850 left to feed, clothe and care for his family.
  • Government collects $160 government to provide public services for Jane and John.

Jane is a little better off and government is better off.  John, however, is worse off and might regret working those extra hours because it means that for every hour worked he now pays more.

A progressive tax system can act as a disincentive to earning. John may feel like the all effort he put into earning money was not worthwhile and he may choose to the minimum possible because it is hard to see how his tax dollars contribute to publicly provided services benefits from. We don’t want to dis-incentivize working.

What we want tax dollars to do is to provide a net gain to society.

There is a concept in economics called a ‘Pareto Improvement’. It occurs when resources are reallocated among members of a group so that the benefit, summed across members of that group, is greater than it was before the resource was reallocated.

Another useful economic concept is utility. Utility is measured in benefit derived. This helps explain why Jane’s money is not the same as John’s money. A dollar does not always have the same utility. The benefit Jane derives from her dollars is the ability to feed, clothe and educate her family – the ability to improve the quality of her life and the lives of her children. When those needs are met, and after that money is spent, things change. After John provides the same level of benefit to his family, his additional dollars start providing less utility. There is little gain in utility between a winter coat bought for $100 and a winter coat bought for $500. Both provide the same function. Function carries the most utility.

Marginal progressive taxes impose the higher tax ONLY on additional income earned. As income increases, each incremental increase is taxed at a higher rate. Only those who have reached the point where the utility of their income is decreasing, pay.

The two concepts of utility and pareto improvement are justifications for marginal progressive taxation.

Now consider a progressive marginal taxation scenario:

  • Government taxation exempts the first $100 from taxation, takes ten per cent from earnings over $100 and under $200, and fifteen per cent from income over $200.
  • Jane makes $110 a week. She pays $10 and has $100 left to feed, clothe and care for her family.
  • John makes $1100 a week. He pays $10 on his first income increment and $135 on his second income increment, for a total of $145, leaving him $955 left to feed, clothe and care for his family.
  • Government collects $155 government to provide public services for Jane and John.

Jane is better off than in the first scenario in two ways, she can personally provide for her family and she will have better access to public services to assist her in improving her quality of life. The government is only slightly less better off than in the second scenario but that loss in utility is offset by the benefit of avoiding dis-incentivizing John’s hard work.  John is less better off than under a flat tax, but better off than in the progressive tax. However in terms of society’s overall gain, John’s loss in utility is offset by the gain in utility for Jane. Additionally, he does derive some benefit from alleviating the poverty around him.

The sum of the utility in the third scenario is positive, and therefore a pareto improvement.

I vote for marginal progressive taxation.







Dear Me,

My 46 year old self wishes that I could tell you the things it took me 46 years to learn. Like:

The path of least resistance is not the easiest path. The people who resist you as you try to move forward, or mock you because your progress is slow? Ignore them.

Don’t stop questioning or challenging or arguing. Those are all signs of intelligence, they are not character flaws. Not questioning and following blindly are character flaws. ‘Bossy’ is a compliment.

Take physics. Take math. Don’t drop-out of art. Don’t stop writing. They all matter, you are capable of them all, and they will all help you find your own happiness.

Those ideas you have about yourself, they are dreams, and dreams are not signs of weakness. Follow them. Pragmatism is not the be all and end all, and being pragmatic is not incompatible with ambition. You just need to find other people with dreams that will help you learn to fly.

You can go to university without a plan, the plan will come. Ignore all the dissenting voices who ask what job that degree will get you. The job will come. What you need is knowledge.

Don’t give into the pressure to define yourself in relation to others, ever. Nothing good can be kept in a box. Everything good grows and changes over time. You are too big to be defined. You are more than what you represent in other people’s eyes. Don’t be for them, be for you.

You are loveable and capable of inspiring love and loyalty, you just have to find people who are loving and loyal. When you find them, (and your 16 year old self has already found some of them) never let them go.

all of us


Personal Pedantic Political Peroration, the Opposition Effect

I smell an election.  All the political parties are in full rut; wooing and catcalling all and any citizen that happens onto social media. In the midst of the flying oaths and dodgy declarations I keep hearing the stupidest thing.

“Don’t throw your vote away.”

This is my rebuttal to those people who proffer the warning that the ruling party alone is responsible for making sure that the wheels of government keep turning, and anyone not in the ruling party does nothing but take up valuable space:

Stop it already.

That’s not true, and in fact it belies a basic lack of understanding about how a parliamentary democracy works – about what is and what isn’t a sign of a healthy democracy.


  • Parliamentary democracy = democratic governance in which the executive branch derives its legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature.

Note the italicized words.

How much accountability is there really going to be if we elect one allied group of people? How much greater the opportunity for collusion and coercion when all members of the ruling party espouse and are aligned with the same ideologies?

Doesn’t accountability spring from fresh perspective, skepticism and asking new questions?

Who does that?

In parliamentary democracy, the party with the second highest number of seats in the legislature is given the OFFICIAL status of OFFICIAL opposition. That comes with an OFFICIAL function.

Our government enacts legislation on our behalf, and the opposition watches over them with a skeptical eye and reports back to us. Government runs things, and opposition makes sure they do it in an efficient, effective and legitimate way. They are the quality control.

Opposition is the steward of democracy. Perhaps not to rule, but to participate in good governance, is the nobler goal.

So, if you vote for the party that doesn’t form the government your vote is not a throw-away. If your elected representative is an opposition member then your elected representative is responsible for the health of our democracy.

This isn’t the race track, Alberta. Picking the winner doesn’t pay the highest democratic dividend. We complain about corruption among our representatives. It exists because we have handed unchallenged power to them. If we can’t muster the collective will to change things up once in a while the least we can do is to elect an opposition to mitigate the tendency of power to corrupt.

Alberta, we need to work together to oppose the behemoth on the right. Until we do that we have no hope of ever replacing the behemoth on the right and changing our boom and bust (hi)story.


This is the story of a place called Alberta. Alberta was a place where working people lived and played, were born and died. And they lived through booms and busts too.

They even had a legislature and every few years they had an election … used to drag themselves to the polls and cast a ballot. Some of them got tired of casting their vote and got caught up in the nets of some pretty big fish. Caught in rural ridings.

And every election those Albertans who did get to the ballot box just got used to electing conservative governments. A government made of oil loving wealth hoarding entitled bureaucrats.

Now, if you think it’s strange that Alberta should be electing bureaucrats you don’t understand the history of Alberta for the last 43 years, there is this fear of electing anybody other than cons.

Now, I’m not saying anything against a bureaucrat. They have a place keeping the wheels turning. They are the engine of Alberta, but they aren’t good as leaders. And the process and policies that bureaucrats just follow aren’t moving Alberta forward.

The laws and policies started to cater to the wealthy and gave them tax loopholes big enough that they didn’t pay a fair share. The policies and procedure started to focus so hard on one single industry that it slowed down the speed of change and growth in other areas so that one industry could keep its grip on the economy without too much effort.

Laws and policy are good things – for the status quo. But they are hard on a society that’s changing. The economic climate was getting harder and harder for new ideas and entrepreneurs. Yet, Alberta kept hoping with each election they would see some progressive change.

And finally they went en masse to the polls. They voted one conservative out and put another conservative in.

The conservatives had put on a great campaign. They said “vote for Ralph’s team” as if a new leader meant real change. As if when you put in the new leader the old party would suddenly be different.

So Alberta elected them again. And the new leader had the same cronies and enacted the same laws and policies as his predecessors. Life was as bad as before.

And when they couldn’t take that anymore they elected the old men out and split the right apart. Then they elected a woman leader ‘for progress’. Then they went back to an old man. They even ended up merging the right all over again. And they called that reunification.

They got a government made up of some progressives and too many regressives: there were even some that preached a lake of fire.

You see, the trouble wasn’t with the leadership. The trouble was with the lack of fresh perspective. There were no new ideas. And because government was always the same they naturally kept repeating the same mistaken financial management policies.

Finally there came a long a group who had an idea. Alberta, you should listen to people with new ideas. These people said we should unite the left, why do we keep electing conservatives and scattering the progressive left wing candidates? Why don’t we run together as one progressive left wing alternative?

No! Liberal minded Albertans said, we want it our way even if we lose! And they turned their backs.

I implore you, Alberta, you can be all for one, or one for all, but you can’t be all fighting one another and hope to prevail.*

(*with all due respect for the late, great Tommy Douglas)


The Pedanthood Monologues

falling resize

Eve Ensler wrote a fabulous piece of theatre called the Vagina Monologues twenty years ago. I saw it with a friend at the Meyer Horowitz theatre on the University of Alberta campus. It made me cry, it made me smile, and it made me think.

This recent article indicates that she, and the work, have been accused of not being ‘inclusive’.

This touches on a distinction that bothers me. It is appropriately a pedant issue too, because it involves the precise interpretation of two related words. High five for living up to my blog’s name once in a while. YAY!

It can also be directly tied back to my previous posts via one common rebuttal of feminism – “What about men’s rights” Low five for sticking to a theme? …

Here’s my issue: Just because something is not included does not mean it was excluded. Inclusion involves choosing what is IN a set. Exclusion involves deciding something should not be in a set. For reasons of pragmatism or availability of information or timing of message, IN choices can leave things un-included. But that does not mean they were deemed un-includable for broad purposes. They can be brought into discussion and can benefit from awareness generated about an issue even if they were not originally in the set.

Eve Ensler herself says “The Vagina Monologues never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman. It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina. In the play, I never defined a woman as a person with a vagina.”

I am a woman. I also have a vagina. Specifically, I am a cis gender woman.

The Vagina Monologues addressed a specific issue, and for pragmatic reasons cis gender women were the IN set. The Vagina Monologues speak to me as a subset of humanity without denying the humanity of anyone not addressed by the specific words spoken on stage. This wonderful work is not called the ‘Woman Monologues’ and it doesn’t claim that the underlying themes are unique to women. Sadly violence, bigotry and intolerance are issues faced by many ‘sets’ within our species.

The issues faced by women and by LGBT people are similar, but not identical. All gender identifications face challenges when it comes to living their sexual identities. The set was chosen to give voice to one facet of broader human challenges. That it is applicable to a larger set of people and the challenges they face means that The Vagina Monologues can be used as the foundation upon which more discussion, change and progress can be built.

I am an ardent feminist, and logically by extension have also been an active advocate for LGBT rights. In my head one extends to the other; there is overlap and fluidity between the two groups and the challenges they face.

Bear in mind that when I talk about harassment of women or violence and sexual crimes against women I am speaking for myself from my own personal experience, but I would never dream of silencing your voice or minimizing your struggle. We are humanity, and we are in this together.


Women against feminism part four – the man update

(Maybe) this is the last time I will address women against feminism. I cannot say for sure because both women and men keep undermining the (human rights) cause(s) that are in their best interest.

For example, this sad example of women blaming women for our unwillingness to accept the status quo, where the status quo is not acceptable. Or this offensive example of trying to erase women from a global discussion.

Anyway…myth busting…

A woman who hates men is not a real feminist, she is a person with problems. I love you guys … when you treat me well, and when you don’t I don’t. A real feminist’s affection for men is a reciprocal affection.

Feminism is not about targeting any segment of the population for contempt. That would be misandry. Misandry is the b-side of a really bad record (the a-side be misogyny). True feminists do not march to that tune.

Feminists promote extending human rights to all human beings, not taking them from men. Human rights are not a zero sum game, rights shared are not rights diminished. Extending human rights to one more human does not in any way mean there are fewer human rights for those who already enjoy them.

Human rights are an infinite resource and hoarding them or restricting their possession to and elite group of humans can in no way ever be justified.

In fact, the one thing that restricting access to human rights CAN and WILL do is make those rights less certain for every last one of us regardless of gender.

Men can and should be self-identifying as feminists. Not for our sake; although I appreciate that sentiment; but for their own sake. What is universally available is very hard to take away.

Feminism is not a power grab, it is a method of solidifying prosperity and freedom for all of us whether we like each other on an individual basis or not.

Men have absolutely nothing to lose by feminism and a great deal to gain by  actively working in unison towards feminist goals. When women win we all win, and denying that men need to be involved or asserting that feminism is not fair to men is just not productive. We are stronger when we stand together.



I’m dreaming …

I’m dreaming of a rights Christmas, 

With rights for everyone I know

With no native women missing, Two men not fearing kissing, Where we all understand that no means no

I’m dreaming of a rights Christmas

With every tweet and blog I write 

May we keep our government in line, So that all our futures stay bright

leg xmas

I am breaking for the holidays but even while I am away I’ll be keeping up with the little details of my pet issues:










Women against feminism part three – think outside the box

The momentum that has ushered white, educated, wealthy woman in the western world out from behind the veil and into the wide where-and-when-ever-I-want-to-go world is not ubiquitous. The momentum exists in pockets of privilege and well lit corporate hallways, but it is conspicuously absent in many non-western societies.

Our momentum is improving our neighbourhood, but it isn’t helping the woman trapped outside the boundaries of our accumulated privilege at the same rate or in the same way it helps us. Only our active engagement with the feminist movement can do that.

nellie     louise     emily

Women against feminism are not only turning their back on the movement that fought for their comfortable ability right to turn their back at all. It’s like a dog biting the hand that feeds it. This isn’t the first movement to have a free rider problem and it won’t be the last.

But that isn’t the worst of their folly.

The true tragedy (and disgrace) is that they are turning their backs on all the women who have not yet gained the privilege of being treated like human beings, being safe in their own bodies and being allowed to pursue their own happiness.

Hey, you know, sometimes it’s not all about you, right? Think outside the box.

Too many of us don’t want to acknowledge what has come to be a globally accepted, albeit comicbook, truism: with great power comes great responsibility. We are empowered and have the responsibility to work extend that empowerment beyond our immediate selves.

Be a feminist for the woman who hasn’t got that option.

Be the feminist face to a government other than your own that thinks it can ignore the women it refuses to represent.

Be a feminist for the sake of other women until those other women are able use momentum to propel themselves to the place you currently take for granted.

Dec 6 1989 – Let’s talk about 25 years

December 6, 2014. Twenty-five years since the day that a man that believed that ‘feminists’ had ruined his life purposefully selected and killed 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal.

I was days away from my 21st birthday. Montreal was really far away from Edmonton, and the massacre was really far away from anything I had ever experienced or imagined could happen in my world. Afterall, I lived in a western democracy where women’s rights were respected. I mean, maybe when my mother was young there was a problem, but for me? I couldn’t imagine.

The blessing of my life is that I have never been the victim violence, sexual or otherwise.  I’ve known sexual harassment, and obviously I know that nagging fear every woman who finds herself suddenly alone in an unfamiliar place knows. I’ve struggled with body image, but I’ve managed to get through with pretty good self esteem. I am lucky in ways that a human being should never have to refer to as luck, yet in a way that for women is realistically characterized as coin-toss good fortune.

Reading the news today I wonder what has changed between that and now, days away from my 46th birthday.

What I do know now is that the world is not as safe and benign as I naively thought it was then. Have we made any progress since Dec 6 1989? I have a hard time sorting out the progress from the regress and I don’t know if I can do the topic justice.

Here are 6 views on the topic written by people trying to sort that out.

Women against feminism part two – get thee behind me, momentum

So my point, continued, is that neither anger nor misandry are inherent to feminist ideology and shouldn’t be used as reasons to reject feminism. The core of feminism is a call for human rights. We need people to stick with feminism to keep the core large in order that the fringe is kept in check.

Now, the thing about being a white, educated, wealthy woman in the western world is that it doesn’t leave a lot of starkly obvious[1] things to object to. My grandmother and mother took care of the stark and obvious injustices. For instance, their lot gave me the vote, personhood under the law, and access to the education I want. That is the big picture, and it can give the impression that everything is taken care of.

But you know the devil is in the details. That’s leaves us, as white, educated, wealthy woman in the western world, with issues that are grey and have softer edges. They are harder to clearly define. They take more detailed evaluation and more strategic motivated action to address. They are no less important as issues, they are just less clearly defined. For example we need to address the pay gap between men and women, unrealistic beauty standards, access to family planning and reproductive autonomy, and body sovereignty.

I accept that those issues already have considerable momentum behind them and are easy to lose enthusiasm for. The blessing of being a white, educated, wealthy woman in the western world is that we have a choice between losing enthusiasm; cheering halfheartedly or opting out of the discussion; and still the momentum will carry us forward. How long it will carry us forward if everyone chooses to not participate I don’t know. It’s a gamble that holds very good odds in the short run that even those who opt out will benefit. As in many circumstances, playing the odds is selfish and one person’s win is another person’s loss. Opting out and making gains from the efforts of other people is a bit selfish. In the long run staying the course, identifying as a feminist, continuing to point out the remaining inequalities and helping the feminist cause stay on course and strong enough to resist fringe elements, is the generous and less risky course. Opting leaves the continued work from which all HUMAN BEINGS (not just women) benefit, up to a minority of the population. It leaves us all open to the risk of being dragged down by the fringes and/or backward by outliers who actually do not believe in the feminist cause (and by extension in human rights).

I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I not only opted out, but also denied that any work needs to be done, which is precisely what ‘women against feminism’ do.

My next blog, continuing this topic, is about the majority of women. Most of us are not white, educated, wealthy woman in the western world with momentum behind us.


[1] It didn’t until recently anyway. But I simply don’t have the energy right now to bring up Jian Ghomeshi and the beautiful can of worms he has opened up

Violence is infection

I intended to publish a lighter blog this week as a break from my planned four-part series on women against feminism. (Some pedanthood trivia -> I learned this from Shakespeare; break up the serious scenes with a little comedic relief.)

However, in light of current events, I have shelved the lighter piece for future.

A Canadian soldier was murdered as he stood guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier, and his murderer then made his way through the halls of parliament in Ottawa.

I am not going to address how it happened, logistically.

However, as I am a pedant and therefore prone to fixation on details and rules, I am fixated on how this can happen on a human level. I can’t stop thinking about why and what and how.

I can, on some level, understand how a person who lives in a culture of violence can be habituated to acting violently. As humans, we conform to the norms of our society. When violence is the norm, then you conform to it unconsciously.

I also understand mental illness. I understand that some of us do not have the capacity to separate fact from fiction, and right action from wrong action, or to comprehend the full consequences of our behavior.

I find it personally challenging to understand how someone who comes from a place where violence is not the norm is recruited to violence. When you come from a peaceful nation where the norm is tolerance and agreeing to disagree how do you come to the point that you can actually see violence as a path?

Violence is a disease and doesn’t affect a healthy mind in a healthy environment. Violence is antithetical to the optimal conditions for cultural and individual existence. Acting out in violence is contrary to our natural impulses for self-preservation and cultural perpetuation.

One of my favourite Ted Talks is by Dr. Larry Slutkin, in which he talks about how he found success treating violence like a disease. He talks about interrupting transmission and shifting norms. Watch it here.

What are the rules and parameters of transmission of violence? How do we identify, inoculate and immunize against the transmission of violent behavior and indoctrination into violent ideologies? How do we identify those living in a healthy society who are individually less healthy and unable to fight indoctrination? How do we identify unhealthy cultures and build them up so that a healthy norm becomes strong enough to fend off the infection with violence?

Right now Canada is poised to join an armed fight against ISIS. Many people I know are completely opposed. I agree that violence begets violence, but I am also at a loss because I think it is obvious something needs to be done.

There’s this fellow named Marshall Rosenberg, I don’t know much about him or his Centre for Non-Violent Communication, but one thing he says resonates with me. He draws a line for responding to violence. His assertion is that we can respond with force OR with violence. We can use force to end a conflict and restrain the participants without becoming violent ourselves. He talks about it here.

I feel completely capable of this as an individual but I have no idea how we would accomplish this on a large scale. We do need to change the way we act and react to global issues. We need to treat the illness and stop the violence from spreading, and we need to act in a way that doesn’t mean we become violent ourselves in response.

We need to build a better world, not just burn and hope that the fire kills the virus.

Big task. I like to believe we’re up to it.